KCF Technologies Blog

Northeast paper plant gains competitive advantage with predictive maintenance

By Ben Lawrence

Ensuring smooth functionality of a winder machine is a herculean task. First, it’s huge. It’s impossible to get a sense of the scale of one of these machines without standing next to it. Second, it’s multi-faceted, made up of various components performing different tasks that must work together in concert. Third, it’s complex, constantly running under different conditions, loads, paper types and combinations of other factors.

The critical points within a winder machine that must operate at optimum performance are numerous. To monitor the health of each point has been difficult and hazardous; to get a picture of the machine’s overall health, under different operating conditions, has been impossible.

Enter preventive maintenance. Change out components, replace parts, run your machine to failure. The reality is that preventive practices will catch and avoid a failure only 20% of the time. That’s right—80% of the time, preventive maintenance is a waste of resources. Worse, each preventive operation comes at the risk of safety to your crew or accidental damage to your equipment.

Now there’s a new way, as a small paper plant in the Northeast learned after reaching its breaking point. Literally.

Facing recurring failures on its winder, the plant called on KCF Technologies engineers to add our SmartDiagnostics® sensors to critical points on the machine. Onsite set ensured that every sensor was properly placed and figured to alarm threshold, and ongoing monitoring by KCF’s team yielded quick troubleshooting. Our engineers’ analysis of the data captured by the sensors revealed not only which component in the machine was failing, but also WHY it was failing. The component was undersized and unable to handle the pressure being applied by the machine.

Enter predictive maintenance. Tools like SmartDiagnostics® sensors are changing the game by letting you catch failures under changing and unique operating conditions and isolate individual component failures more quickly.

Even more impactful, predictive monitoring allows our engineers to study the entire machine or system, NOT just the health of an individual component at a specific point. The resulting analysis indicates WHY a failure is recurring, in the case of our plant in Pennsylvania, or how to predict and avoid failures in the future.   

With downtime costs at as much as $40,000 per hour for a winder machine—plus the cost for temporary fixes and lost customers—predictive maintenance has been a game-changer for this small Northeast paper plant. After more than a century, the plant is regaining a competitive advantage by getting predictive.  What they lack in size and power they make up for with the intelligence and agility offered by SmartDiagnostics® predictive tools.

The Opposite Approach

By Jeremy Frank

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” – George Costanza – Seinfeld Episode #86 – The Opposite

I was interviewed recently by Frost & Sullivan as part of a market research article on condition monitoring in oil & gas applications.  The article was posted last week, and begins as you might imagine… “We've all heard the horror stories: oil prices declining by 70%, capital expenditure (CAPEX) declining by 25-50%, rig count declining by 80%. Globally, the oil and gas industry is reeling, with oil prices breaching the $30 per barrel mark.”

The article goes on to provide an insightful and informative perspective on the fast-changing and currently dire state of the oil & gas market in general, and Condition Monitoring specifically.

It’s a worthwhile read (you can check it out here), and really got me thinking. Not about the global oil & gas market… about one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes of all time: The Opposite.  It’s the one where George, after a lifetime of continuous failure and disappointment, decides to start doing the exact opposite of what his instinct tells him.  Instantly, everything starts going right for him, and all that he wants falls right into his lap.

There are some real parallels between the comedy genius of Seinfeld and the ongoing comedy of choices that we make in our daily lives. It’s wired into our DNA, right? It’s the lasting effect of our reptilian brain that gives us our fight-or-flight response. Often in the face of a crisis, we run, or more bury our heads in the sand (or a pillow) until the trouble has passed.  Or, we make irrational choices based on fear. We adopt a mob mentality, following the crowd.  Think of the folks who lost confidence in the stock market in 2008, only to stuff their money under the mattress and watch the market more than double over the next few years.  Oops.

My point isn’t to comment on the projections in oil & gas prices, or anything markets trends in general.  That’s not what I do with my time.  It’s a take on the companies (our customers and their competitors) who are operating in the current environment of fear and uncertainty.  I’m seeing two types of behaviors:

1) companies who are waiting it out, hoping it won’t get any worse, cutting costs on ridiculous things like coffee, meals and benefits, or more serious things like training and safety.

2) companies who are taking a good, hard look at the challenges and opportunities presented by the market, and making strategic investments to run more intelligently, more efficiently and more safely.

I feel fortunate that the companies we work with fall squarely in the second camp. Just like George Costanza, they are resisting the temptation of fear-based actions and doing the exact opposite of their competitors.  Having seen this episode, I’m pretty sure how it will turn out!

“No, because…” or “Yes, if…”

By Aaron Spak

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to and working with many different companies to figure out how use mechanical systems more efficiently and have them perform more reliably. When it comes to making improvements, the reactions to change – to doing something differently or to trying something new – almost always take the form of one of those two reactions: “Yes, if,” or “No, because.”

Let’s look at them more closely.

The “No, because” camp quickly analyzes the proposed change to the status quo and seizes on any possible reason things might be difficult or go awry. They are good at protecting themselves and their company from that risk, and are incentivized to do so. They will say things like, “No, that approach won’t work because the software doesn’t have feature X,” or “No, that won’t work because we need 6 months of warning and not 3 months before a failure.”

The “Yes, if” camp is much more positive. They are focused on the business result while still acknowledging the risk that comes from any departure from the norm. “Yes, this could work, if we made sure that the right security protocol is in place.” Or, “Yes, we could use this to improve bottom line results, if we can get production onboard with the idea.”

Companies that focus on the outcome of improvement initiatives and the business results that come from doing things more efficiently will find success faster than those who focus on a preconceived technical solution. There is rarely ever just one right answer and there is real advantage that comes from letting different, creative, and challenging solutions come through. You’ll still identify and manage the risk but you’re now open to innovation. Try the “Yes, if” approach for a while (if you don’t do it already) and let me know how it goes! You’ll open the door to many more possible solutions, reach the finish line faster, and have more fun doing it.

KCF Making the Things You Work with Smarter